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Profiles of Caribbean Artistry

When manager Aaron Reid received the National award on behalf of The Signal Hill Alumni Choir at the 1997 Independence Day presentation function, all of Tobago, in fact all of Trinidad and Tobago, must have exalted at the signal tribute to arguably, the country's most outstanding folk choir of all time.

The Signal Hill Alumni Choir is a continuation of the all conquering Signal Hill Senior Comprehensive School Folk Choir which was founded in February, 1981, with the aim of participating in the National Biennial Music Festival. The original school choir made a clean sweep of all the awards in its various classes and its overwhelming success pre-empted the formation of an Alumni.

The Signal Hill Alumni Choir was established in 1984 with a core of past students of the Signal Hill Senior Comprehensive School and 'a select number of special friends who have been contributing greatly towards the success of the choir.'

In fact, although 'the main aims of the choir are to foster and promote high standards in our indigenous art forms and to establish cultural links with our brothers and sisters all over the world', the members of the organisation must be lauded for their ability to cooperate, survive and develop over the past thirteen (13) years and to add diversity to their repertoire without losing that Tobago flavour that has made their music unique and internationally admired.

Their love affair with the general public and the cultural aficionados began immediately in 1984 when they staked a claim to the Louis Blanche Fraser Cup for the Best Folk Choir, 20 singers and under; the San Fernando Chorale Trophy for the Best Folk Mas'; the Sir Edward Beetham Shield for the Best Folk Song Choir (over 20 singers) and the Olive Walke Memorial Trophy for the Most Outstanding Choir in the entire festival.

After 'graduating' from the Music Festival, the Choir took its show on the road and showcased its repertoire (which was extended to include gospel, reggae, calypso and other contemporary styles), throughout the country, the region and even up to Atlanta and New York in the United States.

In 1987, the group launched its first ever recording album entitled Xmas Coming. The following year, the choir released a Xmas Coming sequel (cassette album) and in 1992, their release Seasons captured the moods of typical Caribbean festivities and traditions.

Those recordings only served to increase the popularity and appeal of The Alumni which has justified the early remarks of Music Festival adjudicator, Simon Johnson who said "I don't think there is anywhere else in the world where one can hear and see and experience such singing, so full of meaning that grips an audience."

The Choir has continued to transfix audiences all over the world, but co-founder John Arnold and his group are intent on crossing new challenges as they take the music of Tobago and the country into the 21st century.

So as one long time fan enthused after hearing the news that the Choir had been honoured, The Hummingbird (Gold) is not just a tribute to Signal Hill Alumni, a cultural institution of Trinidad and Tobago; it is not just a tribute to John Arnold, Mike Duncan, Rawle Carrington, Aaron Reid, Zelma Cowie, Cheryl Duncan, singers Oscar Benjamin, Ian Baynes and all those who toiled assiduously through the years; it is a tribute to an island, its people, its culture and all those who prepared to pay the price of progress.

1997 Orville London


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